Politics As Religion


It’s often been said that religion and politics don’t mix. Perhaps that’s why the rules of etiquette
used to require avoiding either in social conversation. From the Roman Empire to modern democratic
systems, history demonstrates that politics and religion have long been intertwined. With an eye on the human condition, this is Insight. The role of religion in political life has
come to the fore again in recent years. It used to be said that religion was dead
and that its role in public life was over. The idea was that as societies became more
and more secularized and modernized, religion was bound to retreat. But religious elements were present in all the world’s political systems, from totalitarian to democratic. Of course, there’s been much more focus
on religion in public life with the recent rise of fundamentalisms of various kinds,
both Christian and Muslim, and with the collapse of the Soviet system. Italian author and historian Emilio Gentile has focused on what he calls the “sacralization” of politics— that’s to say, making aspects
of a secular political system into something bordering on the holy or sacred. This predates by many years the recent emergence
of religion as a force of international affairs. In a Vision interview he explained in more
detail what he means by sacralization: “Well, sacralization of politics means that some
secular entity in politics—like ‘the Fatherland,’ ‘the Race,’ ‘the Revolution,’ ‘the Proletariat’—became absolute and command obedience to people who want to believe that these secular
entities are, in a sense, the giver of the meaning of life, and you have to sacrifice
your life; in any nation you sacrifice your life for war to save the country. And in this way the country becomes a secular
god, a secular godliness. Whenever you sacralize these political entities,
which are secular entities, you transform them into a kind of absolute entity, giving
meaning to life and giving the ultimate goal to life. You are sacralizing politics, which is very
different from any use of religion in terms of politics, or using politics in terms of
traditional religion.” Gentile’s studies range across all political systems. When asked to detail some of the elements
of political sacralization in today’s world, he began, perhaps surprisingly, with one of
freedom’s symbols: “Well, I think there is a very common object that you can see right now: the [American] dollar bill. When you turn a dollar bill, you have the
national motto, “IN GOD WE TRUST.” But there is no definition of God in this sentence. Is it the biblical God? Is it the Muslim God? No, it is “In God we trust”—the God
of America. And you have the symbol, the great seal, the symbolism
of the great seal, the pyramid, the holy eye, and then the two Latin sentences. All are religious symbols, but they are related
not to a God of the Bible, or Christian God, or Muslim God. They are related to the American entity, to
the American nation, to the American republic. “And then you can also see all the symbolism
in the United States monuments; for instance, the Lincoln Memorial. I think it’s very difficult to approach
the Lincoln Memorial without having a sense of religiosity, of sacredness surrounding
Lincoln in that temple. This is a clear example of the sacralization
of politics, because Lincoln was not a God-sent son, he was a political figure.” Professor Gentile’s comments may be rather
shocking to some. This is not to suggest that we shouldn’t
cooperate with government, but rather that we recognize that most governments use religious elements. Jesus was approached on a related matter by
His opponents. In an attempt to trap Him, they asked, “Is
it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” He asked whose image was on the coinage. Of course, it was Caesar’s. His reply, then, was “Render . . . to Caesar
the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”
(Matthew 22:15–21). In so doing, He avoided their trick question
and at the same time drew a distinction between the secular and the religious, while indicating
that both require compliance. What remained unspoken was what happens when
there is a conflict between man’s laws and God’s laws. For the believer, the apostle Peter supplies the answer, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Countless people over the centuries have had
to make that decision and take the consequences. For the full text of the interview with Emilio
Gentile, search for “politics as religion” on the vision.org website. For Insight, I’m David Hulme.




Comments
  1. Whine, whine, whine about an imaginary war on religion. Play the victim.
    The Christians are the problem. Their drivel is an incompetent deity who requires "clergy" to interpret iron-age literature. The political establishment supports this nonsense by giving imagery at an "inauguration" with one hand swearing to god on this fantasy. These people often quote a catechism with versions of climate change denial, as if a flourishing of feathers signalling to other birds. The system results in us knowing intellectual giants such as Rick Perry, Sarah Palin & The Shrub.
    They own you, it's a club and "we" are not in it. New Boss, same as old Boss. Forget your government doing much other than promise high and deliver low, just like the deity. Eternal life is simply a matter of having the "correct" opinion. Enjoy the demented jet-setter an electoral college decided was best for you. The political religion has it's version of clergy for laws and tax-codes as well, with it's clergy of lawyers, maze of official offices Same game, with new names. They both would have you forget freedom of speech also means roaming licence for the insane to flutter about their flurry, to become president and blow the world up.

  2. Just like all those countless Royal's claiming godly lineage. Civilizations across the world with no exposure to one another share this phenomenon, is it ingrained into humanity or are there just always those people that will exploit as much of whatever they can.

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